H1N1 pandemic "vastly overrated" by WHO

June 11, 2010

The handling of the H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), EU agencies and national governments led to a "waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public", according to a report released by the Council of Europe.

The handling of the H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), EU agencies and national governments led to a “waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public”, according to a report released by the Council of Europe. The report, prepared by UK MP Paul Flynn, identified evidence that the WHO had “vastly overrated” the seriousness of the situation, ultimately resulting in a distortion of public health priorities.

“This is a pandemic that never really was,” said Flynn, when presenting the report to the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

The report is another blow to the WHO, which has been subject to a number of reviews and inquiries following its handling of the pandemic, which was declared on 11 June 2009.

One of Flynn’s particular concerns regarding the handling of the pandemic was the lack of transparency of the WHO’s decision-making processes and the possible influence of the pharmaceutical industry on some key decisions. This issue that has also been raised by a report produced in collaboration with the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (The Bureau). According to this report, some experts advising the WHO had served as paid consultants to manufacturers of influenza drugs and vaccines; for instance, the report claims that key WHO guidance was authored by an influenza expert who had received payment for other work from Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, who manufacture Tamiflu and Relenza, respectively.

“The existence of these conflicts of interest is of grave concern, more so because the WHO has not been transparent about them,” said Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief of the BMJ, in a statement.

The BMJ/The Bureau report concludes that the current system is “struggling to manage the inherent conflict between the pharmaceutical industry, WHO, and the global public health system”, and stresses that although planning for the worst is a sensible approach, there are “damaging issues” that must be addressed.”

Both reports believe that there should be greater transparency and better governance in public health, and both highlight the importance of rebuilding public confidence in health decisions taken by the WHO and European and national authorities. Flynn’s report includes a number of recommendations, including the “urgent” need for a thorough review of decisions taken by public health authorities during the H1N1 pandemic.

Godlee also believes that the decisions made during the pandemic must be evaluated “with full disclosure of the evidence behind the decisions, the names of those contributing to the decisions, and their conflicts of interest”.

http://assembly.coe.intwww.who.int